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America’s Lab Report: Investigations in High School Science
with computerized models, or simulations, representing aspects of natural phenomena that cannot be observed directly, because they are very large, very small, very slow, very fast, or very complex. Using simulations, students may model the interaction of molecules in chemistry or manipulate models of cells, animal or plant systems, wave motion, weather patterns, or geological formations.
Interaction with data drawn from the real world. Students may interact with real-world data that are obtained and represented in a variety of forms. For example, they may study photographs to examine characteristics of the moon or other heavenly bodies or analyze emission and absorption spectra in the light from stars. Data may be incorporated in films, DVDs, computer programs, or other formats.
Access to large databases. In many fields of science, researchers have arranged for empirical data to be normalized and aggregated—for example, genome databases, astronomy image collections, databases of climatic events over long time periods, biological field observations. With the help of the Internet, some students sitting in science class can now access these authentic and timely scientific data. Students can manipulate and analyze these data drawn from the real world in new forms of laboratory experiences (Bell, 2005).
Remote access to scientific instruments and observations. A few classrooms around the nation experience laboratory activities enabled by Internet links to remote instruments. Some students and teachers study insects by accessing and controlling an environmental scanning electron microscope (Thakkar et al., 2000), while others control automated telescopes (Gould, 2004).
Although we include all of these types of direct and indirect interaction with the material world in this definition, it does not include student manipulation or analysis of data created by a teacher to replace or substitute for direct interaction with the material world. For example, if a physics teacher presented students with a constructed data set on the weight and required pulling force for boxes pulled across desks with different surfaces, asking the students to analyze these data, the students’ problem-solving activity would not constitute a laboratory experience according to the committee’s definition.
Previous Definitions of Laboratories
In developing its definition, the committee reviewed previous definitions of student laboratories. Hegarty-Hazel (1990, p. 4) defined laboratory work as:
a form of practical work taking place in a purposely assigned environment where students engage in planned learning experiences … [and] interact